“Paid in Full” – John 19
Good Friday – April 14, 2017
Tonight’s message is going to focus on one word. I don’t think I have ever done that before… preached a sermon on just one word. The word is a Greek word – tetelestai (tetelestai) – but it’s translated into three words in English: “It is finished.” (Last word of Jesus? or not…)
Actually, there is an entire family of words in Greek, with several nuances of meaning.
teleioV (teleios) – Adjective / adverb – perfect, fully, completely
teloV (telos) – Noun – end, goal, achievement, accomplishment
telew (teleo) – Verb – to complete, to fulfill, to finish
Let me give you some examples of the use of that family of words from Jesus’ ministry and teaching, and tie them all together in the cross.
‘Telos’ can have the sense of perfection. In Matthew 5:48 when Jesus said, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,” ‘telos has the sense of totality, wholeness, like a heart which is undivided / wholly and completely loving and obedient to God. God is fully undivided in His love for us, and He asks us to be total in our love, even our love for our enemies (v. 44 says don’t just love your neighbour and hate your enemies, but love your enemies, too).
Think about a young man, still living with his parents (not any of the young people here tonight!) and getting on the wrong side of his parents: car accident, came home drunk, stole money from parents, lies regularly, disobeys, gives ‘rents a little ‘tude, lazy and doesn’t help out with household chores, working but not paying any “rent” because attitude of entitlement (I deserve to live at home for free), come home with girlfriend that is just not what his parents dreamed for him. Yet, his parents continue to speak and show love to that young man… constantly, in many ways (hugs, words of encouragement, forgiveness), despite his rebellious attitudes and actions. That would be a total, teleios love.
Jesus demonstrated His total love for us. While we were still sinners (worse than any teenager!) He died for us. He died for us!! We don’t deserve it in the least. We have done nothing to earn His love and His sacrifice. No entitlement… just grace, an undeserved gift. Through St. Paul, God explained that His power is made perfect (teletai) in weakness. The cross was a symbol of weakness, as Jesus submitted not only to the human authorities – Jewish and Roman – but also to the will of His Father. It looked like Jesus had lost his battle – having been scourged and whipped, wearing a crown of thorns, wearing a mocking kingly robe, and being nailed to a cross. But God’s power – His power over sin, His power over death, His power over the forces of evil – was being shown totally, wholly, perfectly even in that apparent demonstration of utter weakness and humility and submission. Jesus’ love was unimaginable, for on the cross, He even prayed for His enemies – Father forgive them! That’s a perfect, whole, complete and undivided love.
Another example of this wholeness, entirety, is found in the Maundy Thursday story, when Jesus was about to wash His disciples’ feet, as an example of servanthood. John 13:1 begins the story: “Jesus knew the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent (the ‘telos’) of His love.” Some translations use “to the end” as a translation of ‘telos’ but the “full extent” indicates He loved them as only He could, with that agape love that describes God’s unconditional, self-sacrificing actions on behalf of those He loves. As Jesus wrapped Himself with a towel, poured water into a basin, and began to wash their feet, He demonstrated the lengths to which He would go, the depths to which He would go to show that He had come to be a servant and to give His life as a ransom for all. That giving of His life would happen the next day, only hours later!
That “to the end” translation actually does lead us to another meaning of this family of words – the end, the conclusion, in contrast to the beginning, especially with respect to time. So the noun form of the word (‘telos’) is used in Matthew 24 when Jesus is talking about the “end” of time, the “end” of the world, the last day. He says that the good news of the Kingdom of God must be preached in all the world, to all the nations, and then the “end,” the “telos” will come. Today, we’re just focusing on Jesus’ death – His end – but He did promise to come back again, at the ultimate end, to judge the world and to take believers to be with Him in heaven. That’s what He also says in Mt. 24 – “He who stands firm to the end (‘telos’) will be saved.” That person who remains in true faith in Jesus even through the trials and tribulations of the ever increasing evil of our world will receive the blessing of being with Jesus eternally.
Related to the idea of the end is the sense of a goal, a final desire, aim, ambition – that, too, is understood as we unpack the word ‘telos.’ This idea is captured beautifully in 1 Peter 1 (one of my favourites). Peter writes about God’s mercy and the hope of heaven that we have, the never perishing, spoiling or fading inheritance that we have – thanks to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. (OK, Pete, you’re jumping ahead a couple of days with that talk of the resurrection… but we can’t forget or ignore that ‘end’ of the story.) Then Peter talks about the trials of this life that we may be facing right now, trials that refine and perfect our faith like fire refines gold. [What trials are you facing right now? Stress at work? Unwelcome doctor’s diagnosis? Maybe that rebellious teenager DOES live at your house? More month left at the end of the money… every month? Ridicule from your family members for what you believe about Jesus?] Peter concludes this little section by saying that by our faith in Jesus, even though we do not see Him, we will receive the goal (‘telos’) of our faith, the salvation of our souls. The goal of our faith – this is what we have faith for, this is why we follow Jesus – salvation! Oh, there is an impact and a side-effect for this life, too. Hopefully we are moving toward that perfect love that God wants for us to have, hopefully we are genuinely serving others after the example that Jesus gave. But the goal, the end, the final desire is to be with Jesus forever in heaven.
‘Telos’ can have the sense of completing something, bringing something to perfection, or to its intended end. So ‘telos’ can describe an achievement or an accomplishment, maybe something that you have worked long and hard to finally bring about. I can remember, for instance, the door I came out of and the parking lot that I crossed after I had finished my last exam in University to receive my education degree. It was a ‘telos’ – both an achievement and an end of my university career. (Little did I know that God would send me back to Seminary two years later to become a pastor.) Maybe your ‘telos’ – your achievement – was writing a novel, or pounding the last nail into the house that YOU built, or maybe making the last mortgage payment on that house. You can have a sense of completion when something you started has been brought to its rightful end. It’s this middle week of the month that I always get my Medical Service Plan statement. I pay it online, but I always write “Paid” and the date on the statement. It helps me to know that I have indeed completed my obligation.
When St. Paul wrote a letter to his young apprentice pastor, Timothy, early in that letter he made clear what was Jesus’ crowning achievement or accomplishment: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Jesus had said virtually the same thing to His disciples: “[I have come] to serve, and to give [my] life as a ransom for many [for all].” When Jesus breathed his last on the cross on that first Good Friday, He had paid the ransom price in full, He had completed His obligation, His mission.
One last nuance of our key word today is the verb form and its sense of having fulfilled or completed or finished something. Actually, both the verb and the noun forms are used in one Bible verse in the account of Jesus’ last day. Just after sharing the Passover / Lord’s Supper with the disciples, and just before going out to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to His disciples “It is written: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled (‘teleo’) in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment. (‘telos’)” The words were from Isaiah, prophet of old, but they were fulfilled / completed in Jesus. In fact, everything, all the promises of God about the Saviour were coming to their ultimate end, their goal. It was St. Paul who wrote about that very concisely when he said, “No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” They ALL had their ‘Yes,’ their goal in Jesus.
And finally, we get to Jesus’ last moments on the cross, and two of His words from the cross. John 19 records that Jesus said, “I am thirsty” so that the scripture would be fulfilled (‘tetelestai’). And in the only other occurrence of that form of the word in the entire New Testament, two verses later, Jesus said, “‘tetelestai’ – It is finished.” Everything that God commissioned Jesus to do has been completed. There the verb is found in the perfect tense, which indicates a completed action. So, not only does the verb mean ‘completed,’ but the tense of the verb also implies completed. The Scripture has been finally and fully completed. The saving work of Jesus has been finally and fully completed… paid in full. And it’s for YOU!
Let’s wrap up these ideas together.
We’ve heard that Jesus showed His perfect (teleios) and total love for people – for you and me – in that He died for us even in our state of sinfulness. God’s power and grace was made perfect (teleios) in the weakness of Jesus’ crucifixion. He loved wholly, fully, He even loved His enemies and prayed “Father, forgive them.”
We’ve heard that He showed the full extent (telos) of His love in His example of servanthood and His willingness to not only pay the ransom price, but also to be the ransom for all humanity.
We’ve heard that He will return at the end (telos), at the last day, and He calls us to be firm, solid, secure, certain in our trust in Him, and faithful until that end (telos). It’s then – at the end or at our end – that we will receive the goal (telos) of our faith, the salvation of our souls.
We’ve heard that that salvation, that saving work was completed (teleo), accomplished, paid in full when Jesus died on the cross. (We don’t need to do anything, we can’t add anything.)
We’ve heard that as Jesus spoke that last word – ‘tetelestai’ – everything prophesied about Him was now fulfilled (‘teleo’) and finished. Jesus’ mission on earth was completed. Death was overcome. Evil was defeated. The grave has lost its sting and its power. It is finished – ‘tetelestai’.
All of those things are wrapped up in that one word, that one family of words. They are all brought to final and perfect completion in Jesus’ last word.
But the message of Good Friday is not just that things are finished, at an end. There are some things, many things that have now begun! Again it was St. Paul who wrote, “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again… If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Something new begins when someone believes that Jesus died for them, when someone lives their life ‘in Christ.’
We could add: sin has gone, grace has come; despair has gone, hope has come; slavery has gone, freedom has come; hostility with God has gone, peace with God has come; fear has gone, love has come; death has gone, life has come… Life has come! – and THAT story continues on Sunday… and goes on for all eternity! Amen.